It’s a feeling that creeps up on you, that sensation when you realize that something is suddenly gone. Just a few years ago, the automotive landscape was littered with Dodge Caravans, Chevy Cavaliers, and Ford Crown-Victorias. Now, they’re practically nonexistent. Where did they all go?
Obviously, we know where they really went (the crusher), but more importantly, their loss represents the realization that an era is over. It’s the circle of automotive life, when a model becomes so popular it saturates the landscape, hangs around for a few years, then slowly begins to dwindle until it becomes a curiosity, before finally disappearing forever.
It’s no surprise that older cars are more scarce compared to new models, but the auto world proves that history isn’t always kind to the victor, no matter how popular it may have been. Just because something sells doesn’t mean it will be revered, or even remembered within a decade or so. In an era where the Henry Ford Museum is turning down vintage iron to buy ’80s economy cars, there are probably more drivable C1 Corvettes left than Vegas – and Chevy sold millions more of those. And think of how many vintage Camaros, Mustangs, Tri-Five Chevys, ’32 Fords, and GTOs show up at every small car show across America. Now when was the last time you saw a Ford Grenada, Chevy Citation, or Dodge Aspen?
From out of the ether, here are 7 American cars that used to be everywhere, but are now little more than a footnote in automotive history.
1. 1957 Ford
This one might seem obvious since these cars are nearly 60 years old, but go to any classic car show and you’d be convinced that every American had a ’57 Chevy sitting in the driveway back then. Not so – for the first time since 1935, the Blue Oval outdid Chevy in sales. GM’s main squeeze took the title back in ’58, and today, a fraction of ’57 Fords survive compared to the seemingly endless examples of its iconic rival from Chevy.
2. AMC Hornet
What was once a common sight on malaise-era highways has firmly become a “when was the last time you’ve seen one of those?”curiosity car. The Hornet was a less gawky version of the Gremlin, and available as a sedan, coupe, and “Sportback” wagon. Today, it’s best remembered for being the car James Bond barrel-rolled over a river in The Man With The Golden Gun (above, left). It was the most popular car ever built by AMC, moving nearly 900,000 of them during its eight-year model run.
3. Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
If you went back in time to the 1980s and told people that Oldsmobile would disappear in 2004 – and I’m assuming that you would consider doing this if you had access to a time machine – people would think you were crazy. At the beginning of the decade, Olds was riding higher than ever before, and the Cutlass Supreme, a two-door rear-wheel drive coupe took the best-seller crown in both ’80 and ’81, moving over 900,000 of them in that two-year period alone. But by mid-decade, the days of personal coupes were numbered, the brand began to falter, and after years of corporate bungling on GM’s apart, the once mighty Olds disappeared shortly after the brand’s 107th birthday. Through its 38-year production run, Oldsmobile built over 16 million Cutlasses. A fraction of them survive today.
4. Ford Escort
Introduced stateside in 1981, but sharing very little with its popular European counterpart, the U.S. Ford Escort was marketed as “The World Car,” a true import-fighter, and for a while, it worked. It was Ford’s first front-wheel drive model, and after the Pinto debacle, reestablished the company as a contender in the cultural consciousness. It topped the Cutlass Supreme to become America’s best-selling car in ’82, and Ford went on to sell millions of them during its 21-year production run. Today, they’re a rarity on the roads.
5. Plymouth Fury
For a generation of drivers, the profile of a Plymouth Fury was one to watch out for. Along with the Caprice and the Crown-Victoria, it was the car of choice for police departments across the country. Mechanically identical in the ’70s to the Dodge Monaco of Blues Brothers fame, the range-topping Gran Fury got a boxy update for 1982 (as did the identical Dodge Diplomat, pictured above), but seemed to become reserved for cops, retirees, and no one else. The once ubiquitous Fury disappeared after the 1990 model year, after nearly 4 million had been sold, making it the most popular Plymouth model ever. Today, there isn’t much of a market for orphaned Mopar products, and there aren’t many Furies left either.
6. Ford Taurus
There was a time, before the ubiquity of the Camry, when the Taurus ruled American roads. Introduced for 1986, the Taurus was unlike anything that had ever come from an American automaker, and its aerodynamic shape, integrated bumpers, and sealed-beam headlights instantly made GM and Chrysler’s offerings look ancient. From 1985 to 2006, Ford sold over 7 million of them, and between 1992 and 1996, it was the best-selling car in America. Despite being a fixture of the American landscape in the ’80s and ’90s, first and second-generation cars have become pretty scarce.
7. Pontiac Grand Am
Many enthusiasts point to the Pontiac Grand Am as Exhibit A in the case of what killed Pontiac off – but they’d be wrong. Despite hideous body cladding, a terrible interior, third-world build quality, and woeful reliability issues with the car’s final generations, people couldn’t get enough of them. Between 1973 and 2005 (with eight years of production gaps in between), Americans bought over 4 million of these things, making the Grand Am a rare bright spot in Pontiac’s fading final act. Today there are plenty of Grand Ams left – you can find most of them at Pick-and-pull lots.
Not long ago, any of these cars could be found in towns all over the country. Now, they’re generally a distant memory if they’re remembered at all. But whether or not they were actually good cars, they represented a time and place in people’s lives and in this country’s history that can’t ever be taken away. They may not of been that great to drive, but at the very least they belong in a museum.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS